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Online politics through the mediating domain of civic cultures: a theoretical and empirical investigation

Open Panel

Abstract

The paper wants to analyze how the digital media environment can foster and promote empowering civic practices. Digital technologies of communication contain in their material configuration great potentialities for participation, interaction and collaborative production of contents; however, the real consequences of these ongoing changes on political and civic processes still need to be verified, hopefully through an analytical approach which should be immunized by any kind of determinist bias, both technological and social. Moving from a theoretical framework inspired by Social Shaping of Technology (Lievrouw, 2002), Culture-oriented Model of Public Sphere (Benhabib, 1992; Fraser, 1992) and the Civic Culture Model (Dahlgren, 2009), the paper will suggest that web 2.0 civic practices can be fruitfully studied through the lenses of a apparently traditional concept as that of mediation (Silverstone, 1999). That theoretical framework will be discussed through the empirical case study focused on Beppegrillo.it, an Italian weblog acting as a communicative platform for the development of a civic and political movement which is lead by Beppe Grillo, a well-known Italian comedian. Combining discourse analysis (Jorgensen and Phillips, 2002; Fairclough, 1995) on blog’s texts with qualitative interviews conducted on non-representative sample of blog’s readers, the study analyzes the specific civic culture expressed by and around the blog, critically discussing the precarious and contradictory evolution of the public from the “obtuse” status, still dependent from the mediation process of the blog, towards the “obvious” one, characterized by the deployment of internal reflexivity and autonomous performances in the larger national public sphere (Dayan, 2005)